Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Dover Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team elected to stay out on worn tires during the penultimate caution period, and he was able to hold off his teammate Greg Biffle on four fresh tires.

In a Nutshell: A race that had had the excitement level of a Smurfs’ picnic turned into a WWF event at the end.

Dramatic Moment: As with any Car of Tomorrow race, passing is at such a premium drivers root and gouge like barbarians on every restart trying to get one or two positions. Sometimes, it goes badly awry. Ask the dozen drivers swept up in Kurt Busch‘s wreck.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

The CoT concept seems to have turned Cup racing into a No Passing Zone. During extended green flag periods, the drivers get separated by intervals of several seconds, unless they were battling to get by obviously slower lapped cars. Why? The CoT was supposedly designed to eliminate the (dreaded) “aero push.” (The phenomenon where a driver in a faster car can get to the bumper of the car he’s trying to pass… but can’t complete the pass because he loses the air off the nose of his car when directly behind the car he’s trying to pass).

But, if anything, it seems to have made things worse. Earlier in the race, fresh tires had proven to be six tenths of a second a lap faster than old tires, but Biffle still just couldn’t get around the No. 99. Compare that to Saturday’s race, where eventual winner Hamlin pitted for fresh tires and restarted fifth, then quickly passed the four cars ahead of him. Clearly, the advantage still goes to the older (and prettier) cars.

People smarter than me tell me that the above challenge could be quickly fixed if NASCAR would allow the teams to run wider front fenders. (Like our friends at Pontiac used to advertise, “Wider is better…”) Of course, that would negate millions of dollars of wind tunnel data collected to date, but it might improve what NASCAR likes to call “the core product,” the racing. Coming off the New Hampshire TV broadcast which drew the worst ratings in the history of the Chase, NASCAR needs to do something quick. After all, you can’t count on Busch to set off a field-decimating wreck every week.

Speaking of Kurt Busch, has anybody else noticed he’s working hard at remaining calm and reasonable even when he’s frustrated? He actually showed a lot of class in his post-race interview. Hopefully, his younger brother is watching.

So, Edwards’s car was found too low in post-race inspection after the win? How many points is that going to cost him and Jack Roush. Precedent seems to say it will be 25 points and a bunch of cash. The latter is inconsequential, but the former would drop him down to seventh in the standings. And once again, fans of the sport will be forced to try to explain to non-fans and casual fans how a car that is found illegal after a race gets to keep the win and the big check. Edwards claims the rear-end sheetmetal of his car was damaged when teammate Biffle ran into the back of the No. 99 to offer his congratulations after the race. How ironic would it be if that damage actually earned Biffle the race win?

When are Cup drivers going to realize if you’re going to hit a guy, you have to wait until he takes his helmet off? It was a rare but not unprecedented display of bad temper by Kyle Petty.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Kyle Petty Pulling No Punches Plus Denny Hamlin Having No Humility Equals A Draw

They’ve been promising to fix pit road at Dover for years now and it remains one of the most dangerous such places on the circuit. Hopefully a close call with one of the No. 55 team’s crew members being struck by a tire today will move the renovation to the front burner. Several drivers also damaged their cars in pit-road collisions. Frankly, the fact two drivers have to share a stall at the start of the race is a genuine embarrassment to the sport.

What was Tony Stewart thinking when he decided to start slamming the No. 15 car on pit road and at pit exit early in the race? It seems he damaged his own car to the point it wasn’t competitive. Considering the days the drivers of the Nos. 20 and 11 cars endured, it might seem wise for Joe Gibbs racing to switch the coffee over to decaf on race mornings.

What is it about these concrete tracks that Edwards has figured out? Five of his six wins in NASCAR’s two top divisions have come on concrete.

Even as Delaware State University across the street was on lockdown after a tragic double shooting, the NASCAR nation continued to party on campus and at the track. It was a jarring disparity of cultures, to say the least. My best wishes and those of the Frontstretch staff go out to the two college students injured in the shooting.

It is widely rumored that Mars candies and its M&M’s brand will be the new sponsor for Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 car out of Joe Gibbs Racing next year. Talk about an opportunity for Chun King or some other mass producer of Chinese food. That’s a sweet and sour pairing if I’ve ever heard one.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is probably a shoe-in for Most Popular Driver as long as he competes, but based on what I saw in Wednesday’s press conference, he isn’t likely to win any awards for “Best Looking Car” anytime soon. And as for the No. 9 car, I can’t help but feel Budweiser and Allstate insurance are the most awkward sponsor pairing since Junior ran the Bud and Remington decals. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. They shoot ’em.

You want to talk about ways to spice up a title drive? Look at the NHRA Funny Car championship. Funny car points leader Robert Hight failed to qualify for this weekend’s event at Texas. Why? Because he didn’t go fast enough, and the NHRA doesn’t offer Mulligans into an event based on the points standings like NASCAR does. If the same system (the fastest 43 make the race) was used in the Cup Series, Clint Bowyer would have gone home and Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Stewart would have been sweating bullets late in the qualifying session.

Oh, but you can’t have big-name drivers not making the race. It disappoints their fans. Well, you know what? I have a buddy who is a Jeremy Mayfield fan, and he’s pretty disappointed that he went to Dover and didn’t get to see Mayfield compete.

Tragedy was narrowly avoided at that NHRA meet in Texas Sunday when Funny Car veterans John Force and Kenny Bernstein collided at the big end of the track. Force is said to have suffered two broken legs and a broken arm in what might be the worst (and final) wreck of his career. Best wishes go out to both drivers and their teams. Force’s daughter Ashley Force was so shaken by the incident, she elected not to compete in the semifinal run she was scheduled to make. Remember, the Force team already had a driver killed this season.

If I have to endure one more Tim Brewer explanation (with graphics) of a dropped valve, I might blow one myself. My guess is that in the post-race gathering, ABC executives will ask that the term “that’s the dead puppy in the litter” not be used again. Or, as Rusty Wallace might say, they will ask that that phrase not not be used not again.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Matt Kenseth dominated the race, leading 194 laps, but he blew an engine with 27 laps left to run.

Hamlin seemed a little too wound up a little too early at Dover. An attempt to force a pass on the lapped car of Petty ended badly for both Hamlin and Petty.

Bowyer was also caught up in the aftermath of Hamlin’s bad decision.

Lugnuts left loose during a pit stop forced Kevin Harvick to pit under green and lose a couple of laps. A flat tire later just added insult to injury, but a pit crew can’t make that sort of rookie mistake if their driver is to be a championship contender.

Penske South had two cars running in the top 10 most of the day until, on lap 385, they had two cars running into the wall. A hard luck award goes out to the dozen drivers involved in the melee.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Race winner Edwards had to overcome a sticking throttle early in the event. Usually, a driver with a throttle stuck at Dover winds up in a Bambulance, not in Victory Circle. Edwards’s day was saved by a household can of WD40.

Defending race winner Burton‘s car was flat out horrible early in the race. A timely caution kept him from going a lap down. He eventually did fall off the lead lap, but another caution put him back on the lead lap. Much more competitive by then, he managed to escape the carnage and come away with a seventh-place finish, one lap off the pace.

I think Mark Martin‘s fourth-place run proves an old man can compete in the new cars.

Jamie McMurray was hit by the No. 42 car, rapped the wall and cut down a tire. He still left Dover with a top-10 finish.

Kyle Busch slapped the wall hard and got a piece of the lap 385 wreck, but soldiered on to a top-five finish.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards has finished first or second in three of the last five races.
  • Biffle scored his best finish of the season and his first top-five finish since Sonoma. His second-place result was his best since he won at Homestead in last year’s series finale.
  • Earnhardt Jr. had his best finish since Pocono in July.
  • Martin had his best finish since the Daytona 500.
  • Kyle Busch has top-five finishes in three of the last four races.
  • McMurray earned his first top 10 since he won at Daytona in July.
  • Stewart has top-10 finishes in nine of the last 10 Cup races.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya scored his first top-10 finish since Indianapolis. He had the best finish among this year’s crop of rookie contenders.
  • Michael Waltrip had his best finish since Michigan.
  • The top-10 finishers drove six Chevys, three Fords and a Dodge.

What’s the Points?

Gordon remains atop the heap, but he is just two points ahead of second-place Stewart, three points ahead of third-place Edwards and four points ahead of fourth-place Johnson. Fifth-place Kyle Busch is just 10 points out of the lead.

Within the Chase, there was the typical radical reshuffle the contrived points system is intended to provide. Edwards moved up five spots to third. Burton moved up three spots to eighth. Stewart, Harvick and Kurt Busch all moved up a single spot. They are now second, ninth and 11th respectively.

Hamlin’s bad call led to a bad fall. He falls three spots to 12th. Johnson also lost three spots and is now fourth. Kenseth lost three positions as well and is now 10th in the standings. Bowyer fell two spots to sixth while Martin Truex Jr. fell a single spot to seventh.

Outside the Chase, Biffle wrestled 14th spot from Casey Mears and Montoya took 19th spot from JJ Yeley.

Under the old points system, Gordon would still be leading, but by considerably more than one point. Stewart would still be second, while Johnson would have overhauled Hamlin for fourth. Edwards would have taken over fifth in the points from teammate Kenseth.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic):  We’ll give this one three cans of lukewarm Lone Star. The race had its moments, but they were few and far between.

Next Up: Start crafting your Wizard of Oz puns because the series heads off to Kansas, a track that has often provided Toto-ally boring events.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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